There have been a wave of announcements from U.S. carriers in the past few weeks regarding plans for commercialization of 5G. The momentum comes as the 3GPP last month adopted the non-standalone 5G New Radio specification, and is working toward finalizing the standalone variant in mid-2018. Let’s take stock of where the big four domestic carriers are in their plans.
Last year Verizon tested 5G fixed wireless access in 11 U.S. markets, which the company said included “several hundred cell sites that cover several thousand customer locations.” Now Verizon says it will use that technology to deliver residential broadband services in three to five markets this year.
In December Verizon CFO Matthew Ellis told an investor conference the company’s 5G trials using millimeter wave spectrum are exceeding expectations in “commercial-type tests.” He said spectrum propagation has been better than expected in trials.
“The distance that we see that you can get over gigabit speeds, north of 2,000 feet, is part of the economics of the business case,” Ellis said, adding that it is still too soon to be certain about how far signals will travel in all scenarios. “There was a lot of questions going into it, and I think there’s still different people with different views in the larger ecosystem around the overall propagation,” he said.
AT&T this week announced its plans to deliver mobile 5G services based on the forthcoming 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) standard in “more than a dozen markets…by late 2018.” According to the company, the mobile service will leverage existing network infrastructure that supports its gigabit LTE offering, which the company refers to as 5G Evolution, as well as pre-standard 5G fixed wireless trials for both residential and enterprise use cases.
AT&T’s 5G Evolution service is available in 23 metro areas including Atlanta, Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston. This service delivers faster mobile speeds using 4×4 MIMO, 256 QAM and carrier aggregation. In addition to the spec-compliant mobile 5G, AT&T said it would grow the 5G Evolution footprint to “hundreds of additional metro areas.”
The fixed wireless 5G trials began in Austin using pre-standard equipment, and expanded to Waco, Kalamazoo and South Bend. Those tests proved out use of millimeter waves to deliver residential and enterprise use cases to multiple-dwelling units, small businesses and education customers.
T-Mobile US has focused its 5G talking points around touting its nationwide 600 MHz spectrum portfolio picked up in an FCC auction last year, while simultaneously talking smack about AT&T and Verizon plans as based on hot spot availability rather than “real, mobile, nationwide,” which CEO John Legere said his company will deliver.
In a recent blog post, Legere wrote: “Our epic low-band spectrum haul blankets the country from coast to coast and ensures we can do two very big things: First, though our coverage already goes toe-to-toe with Verizon and has all the carriers scared to death – we’ll continue to grow and strengthen our LTE coverage today, and second, we announced we’d use part of that spectrum to build nationwide 5G. While Dumb and Dumber focus on 5G hotspots that won’t work when you leave your home, we will be the only ones on the fast-track toward a real, mobile nationwide 5G network in 2020 – and have already started deploying 5G ready equipment…we’re leapfrogging the Duopoly like they’re standing still.”
In a recent field test, T-Mobile US connected a Nokia base station with Intel’s 5G Mobile Trial Platform using the 28 GHz band in an outdoor environment in its hometown of Bellevue, Wash. T-Mobile US called this its “first inter-vendor 5G network,” and said the testing is in step with 3GPP’s emerging 5G NR standard.
For the field test, Nokia provided its commercially-available AirScale equipment, which connected to Intel’s 5G Mobile Trial Platform, which uses the chipmaker’s radio frequency integrated circuit to provide broad spectrum support for 5G-related testing activities.
In May this year, Sprint announced it intends to deliver 5G in late 2019. Sprint has put particular emphasis on its 2.5 GHz holdings as an opportunity for relatively low-band 5G deployments. Outgoing Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati said late last year that, “In our mind, 2.5 GHz is going to be to 5G what 800 [MHz] is to the 4G world.”
Sprint also is tapping into higher spectrum bands in its 5G network trials, including the 73 GHz band in conjunction with vendor Nokia and the 15 GHz band with Ericsson.